WASHINGTON - He's the right guy to ride herd over America's intelligence operations. Or he's a good guy, but the wrong one for that tough job.
Those warring opinions emerged about James R. Clapper after President Barack Obama said yesterday he wants the Pentagon's current intelligence chief to serve as director of national intelligence - the fourth since the post was created in 2004.
"Eminently qualified," Obama described the blunt-spoken retired Air Force lieutenant general, and said he wants the Senate to confirm him quickly.
Those who know Clapper, 69, and have worked with him during his long career in public service say he's never shied away from a fight. That's just what he may get from senators who will decide whether to put him in a job that comes with an unforgiving mandate, as explained by Obama: ensuring the 16 spy agencies work "as one integrated team that produces quality, timely and accurate intelligence. Let's be honest - this is a tough task." A preview of the Capitol Hill obstacles?
It's a thankless job that has challenged the first three directors. Many intelligence and administrative experts believe the role was ill-conceived when it was set up as part of the post-Sept. 11 reforms in 2004.
Obama said Saturday: "He possesses a quality that I value in all my advisers: a willingness to tell leaders what we need to know even if it's not what we want to hear."